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By Douglas McIntyre | DailyFinance.com | Sept. 24, 2010
Don't kid yourself. Real privacy no longer exists in this country.
We've long had government organizations collecting data that paints a pretty clear picture of what we do with our time. The Internal Revenue Service knows everything about what you earn and any major transactions you make. It can access every bit of information it needs to determine how much money you should be sending on April 15.
The most important gatherer of personal information in the country is the Federal Bureau of Investigation. It keeps a database of over 90 million fingerprints, which can be accessed by other law enforcement agencies. It also has an extensive database of DNA, the most specific marker of personal identity. The bureau's ability to collect information expanded following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. It now tracks a large portion of mail, cell phone traffic and Internet activity of people it deems suspicious.
Thanks to advances in technology, however, there are also now numerous private enterprises that track and record your every move. Although they don't usually give out this information, there are often worrisome leaks and security breaches where they inadvertently release sensitive information about their customers. Taken together, these industries have data on where you are, who you are communicating with, how you are earning your money, how you are spending that money, as well as the hobbies and interests you are pursuing.
We examined a large number of organizations to find the most intrusive firms and industries. Here they are, ranked by the number of people they track:
1) Credit Rating Agencies
With each firm having files on over 200 million people, the three credit bureaus -- Equifax (EFX), Experian (EXPGY), and TransUnion -- know not only your credit history, but also have the data to project your credit future. The companies collect a history of all credit use by an individual, including payment of bills, mortgages, and credit cards. The agencies also track the frequency with which a person applies for credit. That information is used to determine a person's credit risk through a credit score. These scores are produced using secret algorithms, ensuring that the bureaus know much more about you than you know about them.